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It Started with a Dream

iCook After School all started with two friends (Lesya and Olga) passionate about food, cooking and nutrition, who wanted to make a difference by teaching children how to cook and enjoy healthy meals.  In 2014, iCook was started as an after-school cooking program for children at elementary schools in the Chicago area. Lesya and Olga share a philosophy — that food is nourishment, and that learning to cook at an early age is a beneficial skill to carry into adulthood. 

Lesya Merena

While Lesya holds a bachelor of science in finance from DePaul University, her real passion is nutrition. At an early age, she discovered that her body reacted differently to certain foods, and eventually she learned she had a sensitivity to gluten. She became very interested in the science of nutrition and in choosing a diet made up of healthful foods: foods that made her feel good – inside and out. The more she studied and learned about nutrition, the more she realized how helpful it would be to have known this information at an early age. Lesya loves helping children in the kitchen so they can learn to enjoy good food (vegetables, beans and whole grains) and so they can develop a healthy relationship with food right from the start.

Olga Davis

Olga holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Dickinson State University and an MBA in finance from the University of North Dakota. She is also a CFP®  professional. Olga’s passion is working with children – helping them with reading, cooking and other life skills. In a way, she combines math skills and cooking interests by teaching children how to measure and learn fractions while they prepare delicious, nutritious recipes. She has been volunteering with children for several years with Big Brother Big Sister and at Working in the Schools (WITS), a tutoring and mentoring program focused on helping children with their reading. She left her career in finance to focus all her efforts and time on her passion working with kids. 



Ian Corse

A transplant in Chicago, Ian Corse was raised on a small organic vegetable farm--an experience that continues to inspire a passion for fresh ingredients. As an advocate for hands-on experiences that incite engagement and exploration, Ian has worked with children of all ages, developing youth programming in a variety of summer camps and after-school activities. He is very excited to be providing the opportunity for kids to discover their own love of food, multicultural cuisine, and culinary adventure!


Lena Burdick

Lena grew up in Michigan and recently graduated college with a degree in Mathematics. She began her career at iCook as an Educator and quickly transitioned to join the team on a full-time basis. She brings a unique perspective to the table and is able to combine her detail-oriented mathematical mind with passion for working with children and making quality education available for everyone.

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Laura Golian

Laura is a Maryland-native with a passion for making learning accessible and enjoyable. She has experience designing and facilitating multiple community-based education programs. She also spent two years teaching English as a foreign language to elementary-aged students in Taiwan.

Laura believes food is an important means for cultural exploration and community building. She is excited about the opportunity to engage with young learners and promote health and nutrition.

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Karla Montiel

Meet Karla, a Chicago native who brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to the field of education. With a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from the University of Iowa, she has eight years of experience as a classroom teacher and a year as an intervention specialist for culturally and linguistically diverse students. In addition to her teaching expertise, she loves guiding students in discovering new multicultural recipes while having fun. For Karla, education is not just a profession; it's a mission to make learning accessible, empowering, and enriching for all learners.

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Andreas Ornelas

Andreas is a Texas-born graduate of the University of Arkansas, with a degree in Political Science. True to his roots, he finds joy in the little things - a good book, good weather, good food, and good company.

He has an interest in community enrichment and started his career bringing after school programs to schools in Chicago. It was there he found a passion creating opportunities for children to develop new skills and knowledge. He continues working to provide children with fun, educational courses.

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Sara Chappell-Dick

Sara grew up in rural Ohio and made her way to Chicago for college at Roosevelt University, where she earned a degree in Economics. Between customer service and administrative positions, she spent three summers working as a camp counselor in Wisconsin and England, and loved the enthusiastic curiosity of the kids she mentored. Sara loves Lake Michigan and spends her free time biking around the city, swimming, backpacking, and hiking. She feels strongly about local food systems and can be found at every farmers market in the city. 


Lisa Carlson, MS, RDN

Lisa holds a bachelor of science in nutrition from Cornell University and a master of science in nutrition communications from Boston University. She is a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) with a dietetics degree from the Oregon Health Science University in Portland, Oregon. Lisa’s career has led her down several exciting food paths involving cooking, writing, and nutrition communications. Earlier in her career she wrote about food at Glamour magazine and at COOK’S magazine. 

Tiffany White, MS, RD, LDN

Tiffany holds a bachelor of science in kinesiology from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and master of science in nutrition, also from UIC. She completed UIC's Coordinated Program in Dietetics to earn her master's degree and Registered Dietitian (RD) credential. Tiffany also works as a certified personal trainer, she is passionate about sharing her knowledge of nutrition and exercise to help others live their healthiest life.  


Our culinary instructors come from different backgrounds and have experience working with children. Many of them are registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs)—so you can be sure that “health” is an important ingredient in each recipe. We believe that hiring qualified individuals contributes to our overall success and students’ safely. 


Background checks serve as an important part of the selection process.Teachers who will be working at Catholic schools are required to complete VIRTUS training.

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Zorin D. 

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